Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Recently, the Star‘s Richard Ouzounian interviewed Daniel MacIvor, Michael Healey, and George F. Walker, three of the country’s most acclaimed playwrights, about the fact that this winter has seen premieres by all of them in Toronto. We’ve already had Healey’s Courageous and Walker’s And So It Goes open and close, and last week, MacIvor’s Communion had its opening at the Tarragon. Of the three, MacIvor’s piece is absolutely the most successful, and the most memorable.
This is one of MacIvor’s “play plays,” which means you shouldn’t come in expecting mammoth monologues or non-naturalistic conventions. What we get here are three characters, three real-time scenes, a beginning, a middle, and an end. Long-time MacIvor collaborator Caroline Gillis plays Leda, a recovering alcoholic and cancer patient who wants to repair her damaged relationship with her daughter. That daughter, Ann (played by Athen Lamarre), is a strange beast indeed: a no-nonsense, born-again cultist who just got out of jail for bombing an abortion clinic. Rounding out the cast is Sarah Dodd as Carolyn, Leda’s lesbian therapist who has to balance attending to her needy clients with her own life problems.
The structure is simple, yet highly satisfying. We never see all three women on stage at the same time; instead, the action plays out like a mini version of La Ronde, with an initial on-the-couch scene between Leda and Carolyn, followed by a hotel-room reunion between Leda and Ann, and finally, a second scene in Carolyn’s office between her and Ann.
And what’s fascinating is how differently all three characters behave in each of their scenes—due to a change of context, of time, and of scene partner—while at all times remaining undeniably themselves. Caroline Gillis has an amazing quality that allows her to be likable even when her character is being a jerk. We know Leda is difficult, that she’s had a troubled past, and was probably an awful mother, but we can’t help rooting for her. And Sarah Dodd, probably one of the best comic actors in the city, gets to show real range, from typical icy therapist at the beginning, to needy mess by the end. But the real surprise here is Athena Lamarre, who absolutely steals the show as the deadpan and hilariously humourless Ann. Her blunt delivery and first-rate sourpuss are a constant delight.
If you’re looking for a show featuring top-notch performances, an engaging and captivating script, and ideas about life and death that will probably stick with you after the curtain comes down, we think this one is definitely worth checking out.
Communion runs until April 4.